Heartbeat by AndromedaMarine

Lifeline

"Go," Elizabeth said, her eyes filling with tears. "I can't hold them off forever."

"Elizabeth, I -"

Elizabeth shook her head. "No, John. Just go." John saw that the woman before him was beginning to struggle with the Replicator before her. "Go, now!"

Finding no time to argue, Ronon seized John's tac vest and pulled him away, through the immobilized Asurans who were beginning to show minimal movement. When John disappeared around the corner, still staring sadly at her, Elizabeth lost control and collapsed to her knees before Oberoth. She bowed her head, wishing that she'd had more time to talk to John, to tell him what to do about the situation. Hell, who was she kidding? She needed closure with him – she needed him to know the truth.

The Satedan and the colonel broke into a sprint as they made their way to the stairs that lead up to the cloaked Jumper where Rodney was hyperventilating. The last thing John heard before starting up the stairs was the unmistakable sound of Elizabeth being tortured. For a moment John hesitated and considered risking (and losing) his own life to help the suffering woman. "Move, Sheppard," Ronon growled from in front of him and the military training John didn't want to pay attention to took over.

Elizabeth's screams would echo for eternity in John's head if he couldn't do anything about it. Once or twice while climbing the stairs John hesitated and both times Ronon had to remind him of the danger they were in if they didn't keep moving. Ronon didn't say it, but the chances of Elizabeth surviving were one in a googolplex (though it was doubtful that Ronon even knew the meaning of the word). John was silent and somber as he and Ronon boarded the Jumper.

"Where's Elizabeth?" Rodney said, a worried expression plastered across his face. He looked at John and Rodney's expression didn't compare in the least: John was pale – a ghostly white, his eyes were harboring unshed tears that he wouldn't let fall until he was in the confines of his room, his hair was stuck up in all directions, and his hands shook as he grasped the Jumper controls. "John?" Rodney whispered.

The colonel shook his head, indicating that he both didn't want to talk about it and was confirming that Elizabeth was to be left behind. He would never say that she was being left behind, he wouldn't call her a casualty of battle, and he wouldn't say that Elizabeth was to be presumed KIA. That was it: she was just gone. Not there, simply absent from present company.

Rodney had his answer and his face too went deathly white. "No..." he whispered. "No..."

Ronon solemnly sat as John took the Jumper out of the atmosphere and into the black of space. John forced himself to keep his eyes ahead; he wouldn't look down at the planet where Elizabeth had been left. The screams continued to echo in his head and the colonel fought for control of his emotions. It was hard, for the man had never been that close to anyone, even Nancy. Now he would never get to share it, his true feelings, with her.

Rodney dialed the space-gate and the IDC and John expertly flew the Jumper back to Atlantis. He didn't say anything as Chuck waved. He didn't say anything when he returned the Jumper to the Bay. He didn't say anything as Keller searched the three men's expressions for an explanation of Elizabeth's absence. He didn't say anything as he pushed past the small group that had gathered to welcome them back. He didn't say anything as he headed to his quarters.

--

The tears came with no mercy, tearing his mind apart shred by shred. Why didn't he refuse to leave her? Why did he agree to Rodney's stupid plan? Why, why, why? His action had been heartless – something he had vowed never to do after Afghanistan. It had been a long time since his body and mind were asunder, and it was painful for both parts to bear the loss. Loss. When had he started to think of it as a loss? He didn't have any proof that she was dead – gone. Don't make me watch your family cry, he said in his mind to Elizabeth. Don't make me accept that you're gone. Don't make me take an empty casket home.

She had been their lifeline. Without her action, they wouldn't have been able to make it to the Jumper and Atlantis would have been compromised (if not already). She'd sacrificed herself (another thing John wasn't willing to admit to) to save the city. The floating, utterly dying city.

John had never cried before as he was now. The utter shock and pain of having to leave without Elizabeth – his Elizabeth – overwhelmed him and soon he found he couldn't breathe. It felt as though something vile was gnawing a hole in his stomach and there was nothing he could do to stop it. He left Elizabeth. It wasn't by choice – it had been an order.

"Go. I can't hold them off forever."

They had anti-Replicator guns; they could've helped her with the job.

"Elizabeth, I –"

He was going to say it, right then. But she stopped him.

"No, John. Just go."

Had she known what he was going to say? Did she feel the same? If she did now it didn't matter – she was gone and there was nothing he could do to save her. Robbed of the chance before all he could do was repeat it in his head and hope that she could read his mind. And just as he was about to leave her he saw it: a faint glimmer in her eyes, the one thing his subconscious needed to complete the circle. It was showing in her expression, in her tears, but her eyes were the strongest. The green irises and the deep black that was a doorway to her soul told John all he needed to know.

He sat up on the bed and wiped the tears away.

He had to save her.